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Marquette Women’s Basketball Preview: vs #23 Illinois

The Golden Eagles get a prime opportunity to jump onto the national radar when the Illini come to the McGuire Center.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 06 Nebraska at Illinois Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I think the best thing about Marquette women’s basketball’s season opening win against UT Martin is the Team Win aspect of it.

They got double digit scoring from six different women led by 17 from Kenzie Hare, three women had at least five rebounds led by 10 from Liza Karlen, and three women had at least three assists led by 10 from Rose Nkumu. You’ll notice that none of that trio is Jordan King, MU’s lone preseason all-Big East team honoree, nor is any of the three Frannie Hottinger, the 2023 Patriot League Player of the Year who is spending her COVID bonus season of eligibility with the Golden Eagles. Marquette pulled away from the Skyhawks with relative ease, and they did it with less than outstanding outputs from two of the players expected to carry the team this season. In fact, you could probably expand that out to three women, as Karlen didn’t have a big impact on the game until the third quarter.

King was limited in the game, as four fouls held her to just 21 minutes played, but she still had 14 points, three rebounds, and two assists. She also had three turnovers, same as Hottinger, who had a rough day in most departments. Hottinger cashed just one of her seven field goal attempts and split a pair of freebies, too. She did pull in seven rebounds, with two on the offensive end, for a nice day there, but it is down from the 9.7 she averaged last season for Lehigh. Things get notably more difficult for Marquette on Saturday given that number in front of Illinois’ name, and Marquette is going to need better days from both women to get the W.

While nine women did appear in the game, Marquette was not at full strength. As expected but not announced ahead of time, Charia Smith will not play this season while she recovers from a knee injury as reported by Ben Steele of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Claire Kaifes was also out with a groin injury, while freshman Halle Vice sat out the first game of her Marquette career with a notable and pretty sturdy brace on her wrist. Given that Kaifes wasn’t exactly taking it easy in warmups or during the game, I would wager that she’s much closer to playing than Vice is right now. Does that mean we’ll see her on Saturday? I’d wager against that, if only because head coach Megan Duffy said “We got a little bit to go with them” after the game on Monday.

Game #2: vs #23 Illinois Fighting Illini (1-0)

Date: Saturday, November 11, 2023
Time: 2pm Central
Location: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: FloHoops, with Bob Brainerd calling the action
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB

Marquette is 5-2 all time against Illinois. The first meeting was a road loss for the Golden Eagles back in December 1997, but they won the next four between 1998 and 2009. The two teams played twice in 2010, once in Champaign in the WNIT in March, which Illinois won in overtime in their barn, and once in Milwaukee in December, a 73-56 MU victory, for the most recent encounter.

Illinois went 22-10 last season, with an 11-7 record in Big Ten action. That had them tied with Michigan for fifth place in the league, and they earned a #6 seed in the NCAA tournament as a result. That didn’t go so hot for them, as they walked away after a 70-56 loss to #11 seed Mississippi State in the first round. Still, given everything else going on in the league, Illinois was picked to finish fifth again this season in the preseason poll of the Big Ten coaches. Makira Cook was tabbed as a preseason all-conference honoree after averaging 18.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.2 steals last season, and she led the Illini in both points and assists there.

The 2023-24 season started off on Tuesday night with an 81-61 victory over Morehead State at the State Farm Center in Champaign. The Illini opened up the game with a 13-2 run and threw in a 15-2 run in the second quarter to blow the game open. Is it important that they got outscored in the rest of the game 57-53? Maybe? Illinois was up 35-15 with five minutes left before halftime as a result of those two runs.... but Morehead State cut that margin to 13 repeatedly in the third quarter and as close as 11 early in the fourth.

The important part about that Maybe? Makira Cook didn’t play against Morehead State. She left their 121-60 exhibition victory midway through the second quarter and did not return due to an undisclosed injury, and head coach Shauna Green said she’s day to day. We’ll see if she’s available for Saturday, as I wouldn’t be surprised to see Green and the doctors decide that it wasn’t worth it to play her against Morehead State in order to let her rest for the challenge of playing at the McGuire Center.

It was Genesis Bryant starring for Illinois on Tuesday in lieu of Cook, going for 32 points on 12-for-16 shooting. That’s a career best for the senior from Georgia who averaged 15.2 points per game a year ago for the Illini. They also got a double-double from Kendall Bostic, who tallied 15 points and 13 rebounds to go with three assists, two steals, and a block. The 6’2” forward from Indiana was one of the best rebounders in the country last season, ranking #57 in defensive rebounding rate per Her Hoop Stats, so keeping her off the glass will be a big part of Marquette’s path to victory.

Illinois didn’t do a lot of long range shooting against Morehead State, attempting less than 24% of their shots from behind the arc. They did hit six of their 14 attempts (43%), including 2-for-5 from Bryant and 2-for-3 from Brynn Shoup-Hill. The Illini were a lethal three-point shooting team a year ago, ranking #10 in the country in shooting percentage at 37%, but they were below average nationally in terms of attempt rate. Solving that problem is crucial for Marquette, as denying them easy inside looks will get them to settle for outside shots, and they might be pretty good when they settle.